Study of the Pathan Communities in Four States of India

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Study of the Pathan Communities in Four States of India, Safia Haleem
Published in Khyber.ORG on Tuesday, July 24 2007 (http://www.khyber.org)


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Study of the Pathan Communities in Four States of India

Safia Haleem

Publishing Date: Tuesday, July 24 2007

India has been attracting invaders, travellers and traders since the time of Alexander the Great. Every invader had left its marks on the geography, history and culture of the country. The impact of some like the Moguls is very prominent in the monuments like the Taj Mahal. The others such as Iran had left its legacy in the language and literature. One set of invaders whose marks are either not visible or little attention has been paid to them were by the Afghans or the Pathans as they are popularly known in India.

The word Afghans and Pathan is synonymous when we deal with the history of the sub-continent. Pathans came as invaders, traders and they served in the armies of the rulers, whoever was on the Throne. They were hired as soldiers, officers and diplomats by different rulers throughout the history of the last few centuries. Moreover, the whole clans would follow from the tribal areas of Afghanistan and settle in the green pastures of India. Very little is known of the legacy of these Pathans, except that they still live as close community in, Punjab, Utter Pradesh, Central India and Bihar on the North Eastern borders. The Indian film industry has always thrived on the actors with the family name of Khan and it was always assumed that their ancestors were Pathans.

Pathan! What does it mean in India?

Generally the Pashtoons outside India believe that anyone with the Sir name of Khan means a Pathan. The Indian film industry has famous names with this title, such as Shahrukh Khan, Aamer Khan and Salman Khan. When a new film of these stars is released on Video, people in Pakistan and in Afghanistan, watch it with special fondness. It becomes a matter of Pride for them to identify with their favourite stars as their Kinsmen. However the reality is different.

The teachers and students of History and Social Anthropology in the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi warned me to be careful with the word "Khan". It was used as a title by the Mughals and then the British during their rule. The word Pathan is also used by those Hindu Rajputs who were converted to Islam. As they considered themselves superior to the other casts in India, they wanted the same status after becoming Muslims. It happened that because the Pathans were a warrior people like the Rajputs and they were respected and feared for their bravery, the Rajputs adopted not only the title of Khan but they adopted the clan names such as Yousafzais or Khattak and Afridi etc. It is interesting to know that the Pathans of these clans had no objection to this practice. During the course of my study, I talked to the Rajput Pathans as well.

The Caste System of India had its effects on Muslims as well and there are clear parallels which the Muslim Sociologist Aysha Sunbul told me to watch. In Hindu Religion there are four castes. As it happened the Muslims of India have unconsciously followed the same pattern by having four equal groups.

  1. The Sayyeds: The descendents of the Prophet Mohammad.
  2. The Pathans: The Martial race and the warriors.
  3. The Sheikhs: Converts who till the land and are mainly in businesses.
  4. The Workers: Barbers, cooks, Ironmongers etc.

Bhopal

This Pathan state was founded by an Orakzai tribesman from the Tirah area in 1710/11. Dost Mohammad Khan was a soldier in the Mughal King Aurangzeb's army. It was the time when the Mughal Empire was crumbling and the small states and their rulers were employing fighters to keep their fiefdoms. Dost Mohammad Khan became one of such Warriors with a group of 100 Pashtoons who earned their living by using their skill of swordsman ship and horse riding. He started capturing the areas around Bhopal in the middle of 18th Century and built strong forts to establish himself as the Ruler. Ever since he took over the area, the other tribesmen followed and the practice stopped only after the Partition of India in 1947.

The story of Dost Mohammad Khan is not known to many Muslims living in Bhopal. But they know that the state was ruled by four women one after the other in the past 200 years.

The Women Rulers of Bhopal
 
  • Qudsia Begum Regent and 8th ruler 1819-37
  • Sikandar Begum Regent and 10th ruler 1844-68
  • Shahjehan Begum 11th Ruler 1868-1901
  • Sultan Jehan Begum 12th Ruler 1901-26

The state army of Bhopal always consists of the Pathans who were specially brought from the Afghan areas and they were given land and money at the time of their retirement if they wanted to settle down in Bhopal.

The whole of India was one big piece of land before the British left and people of different ethnic groups could move from one place to another as they do in any free country. Some families could speak/understand Pashto. The reason was that until a few years ago, most of them were able to travel to Afghanistan and Pakistan. There was a better communication at each level of the family and the children would be able to understand. However this is not possible now and the women folk are not able to speak the language, although they understood what was being said.

Talaezar Khan who came from Bunair in the Tribal areas about 70 years ago has fond memories of the time of the last Nawab, but he is not well off and lives like the rest of the lower middle class families. There are many villages where the Pathan families are land owners and are working hard on the land to keep a decent living. Some of the villages have Pashto names which have been localised due to different pronunciations, such as Raisan area, Khan Dera (the place where the Khans live), Bavalia, Silvani, Auchiara, Nakhtara (name of a tree in Pashto). The population of these Pathans is less than 5% in each village on average. Nobody could tell me the exact figure though.

Traditions of the Pathans in Villages of Madhya Pradesh

Traditional foods of Bhopal are no different from the rest of India, however the Pathans eat a lot of meat and they do not serve lentils to the guests especially in the villages. They prepare fried sweet pastry pieces called Ghonzakhi which is given to the bride when she goes to her in laws or someone who is travelling far. They also prepare pancakes on rainy days or for the guests which are called "Waishallay" (called Cheelay in Bhopal Language).

Language

Talking to the Bhopali Pathans, I found the following Pashto expressions.

  1. Ghat (big or fat) used for a boy who was bigger than his age.
  2. Chilla (extreme cold) Pashto word Tsilla (which means frost).
  3. Vara Varrai (Vaada Madai) in Pashto it means meal for all. This meal consists of big pieces of meat cooked in water and served with pieces of bread. It is eaten in a big dish and all eat from it using their hands.

Bihar

Bihar always held a fascination for me for two reasons. One, that it had Buddha's birthplace and second, it was ruled by the great Pashtoon King Sher Shah Suri (1540 -1545) who took power from Mughals in the 16th Century and ruled for 5 year until his death. But he has left his mark on the Indian society and they still revere him. His Revenue system and Postal system are still followed in the 21st century.

The Pathan lands and villages are scattered all over Bihar and I concentrated only on the area where Sher Shah lived, which was mostly in and around Patna and Sehsaram. There is a famous place called Sher Ghati and villages in that area are reputed for having wild Pathans.

Patna

There were many Mohallas inhabited by the Pathans and they are named after the clans such as "Lodhi Kadrra", "Khattak Toli" and "Afridi Tola". There are also two gardens named Kalo Khan and Mallo Khan. These were the two of the commanders who came with Taimurlane when he attacked India in 8th Century.

Shah Arzani's Shrine and Monastery

Arzani is one of the famous Pashto Poets and a Sufi of the Roshania movement which started as a reaction to the Mughal King Akbar's new religion Din-e-Elahi. It started in the 17th Century, and later became a Sufi way of life, going along with the Chishtia Tariqa. The whole place around Arzani's shrine looked peaceful, but I was told that only two weeks ago, there was an Urs (annual celebrations to mark the birthday or death of a saint) and about 10,000 people came which is minimum. Between, 30 and 40,000 people come in good weather. The interesting thing is that there are two days of the Urs, one for men and the second for the women. On the womens day, all the shops are run by women and no man is allowed to go near the place.

When I was about to leave the place after the evening prayers came to an end in the main mosque, I saw a group of women heading towards the Shrine singing traditional wedding songs. They were taking the bride to the shrine to have the blessings. This is a very old tradition followed in the tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan now. A day before the wedding the bride to taken to the local shrine by the women of the family.

Sehsaram and Sher Shah Suri's clan

In Sehsaram district, very few Pathans live and in fact none of the Sher Shah Suri's family members were ever traced successfully. However the villages at the vicinity about 100 km from Sehsaram have fragmented population of the Pathans who carry their family names with them. As far as the differences of the traditions, I could not spot many amongst the different clans e.g. Khattaks and Afridis or Yousafzais. However there were many subtle differences. Yousafzais were more educated and joined the government services. The Khattaks and Shiranis work on the land. Their women folk are usually from their own tribe and they hardly marry outside the family. The Afridis are more open and they marry with other families, although the education level amongst them is not that high.

Jagdesh Pur Village in Bihar

It is 80 km North West of Patna. The total number of houses in the village is about 1000. There are about 50 Pathan families and all of them live in one area which is called "Pathan Tola". It was interesting to know that wherever there were Muslims living in an area in Bihar, there is bound to be one Pathan Toli or Tola (which means group).

Some of the family traditions are still followed strictly.

  1. When a child is born, they shoot in the air. Three shots for a boy and two for a girl.
  2. The family has kept some of the swords and shields safe although they were in a bad condition.
  3. The men shout outside the door when they enter their own house, so that if there are any women guests, they could cover themselves.
  4. The family is strictly religious and they kept the men and the women quarters separate from each other.
  5. At the time of the wedding, no demand is made for the Dowry and the boys family will always present two gold coins in a plate at the time of the Rukhsati (bride leaving her parent's house) to the bride's family. It is usually given to the bride now a days.
  6. A lot of meat is cooked at the wedding feast. Special meat with no spices is cooked in earthenware and is eaten with leavened bread baked on the Charcoal.

Punjab: Maleer Kotla

The capital of the state is also called Maler Kotla and it is situated at a distance of 28 miles to the South of Ludhiana and 36 miles from Patiala. It has a population of 100,000 and the total area of the state is 164 square miles. It is comprised of 213 villages and has rich fertile land plain broken by sand drifts here and there. The Muslims are 65% of the population and 20% of them are of Pathan origin.

There are several myths about the city and one is plausible enough about Shaikh Sadruddin. He was a pious man from Daraband area (present day Quetta in Pakistan) of Shirani tribe sometimes between 1430 and 1440. He settled in the village of present day Patiala living in a small hut praying and meditating and was considered a saint by the local people. It happened that Behlol Lodhi (1451- 1517) the Afghan king who had most of the western parts of India under his control wanted to rule Delhi and was on his way with a big force. He was caught in a sand drift and while there was nothing visible in the darkness, the King spotted a dim light of a lamp still burning in the wind. It was the hut of Shaikh Sadruddin and when the king found out, he came to the hut to show his respect and asked the holy man to pray for him to bear a son and have victory.

The king married off his daughter Taj Murassa to Sadruddin after he got the throne of Delhi, and also gave him the area of Maler Kotla. This happened some time between 1451 and 1452. The descendents of Shaikh Sadruddin branched into two groups. One started ruling the state and they were given the title of Nawabs. The other branch lived around the Shrine of Shaikh Sadruddin and they control the revenues of the shrine. Muslims and Sikhs live peacefully at present and there was never any ethnic violence since the partition. There are many mosques in the city and call for prayer is heard on loud speakers at the time of the prayers.

Pathans of the City

The level of education amongst the Muslim population is low, but those Pathans who do get education, usually join the government service. Their preferred field is Police and it happened that they are successful Police officers. Some of the Pathans are renting out their properties and a few of them are still keeping the old family business of Rearing horses and selling them in the annual fairs of Punjab. Most of them are religious, and they send their children to several of the Madrassas in the city where the boys and girls study. Children from the nearby villages also come to such Madrassas and Quranic education is considered compulsory. There are schools and one college for girls. For Post Graduation, they go to either nearby Patiala or Ludhiana.

The Nawab's Family in Maler Kotla

Sajida Begum is the second wife of the last Nawab Iftikhar Ahamd Khan of Maler Kotla. I went to see her in the main palace which is decaying day by day. It was built at the end of the 18th Century, but every successor improved it. It is built of brick and mortar, with huge wooden doors and high ceilings. The original palace was surrounded by Green fields and it must have been a grand place, but all the grounds have been sold now and new shopping plazas are being built.

Family Traditions of Pathans in Maler Kotla

Iqbal told me that rearing horses was done by his family in the past 300 years. But they never sold horses. It was started only by him to make a living. All the horses are named at birth and they are marked with the Shirwani seal. Akhlaq Ahmad Khan is also from the same family and he is a famous advocate of the city. He is also holding on to some of the family heirlooms. In fact the Sword from his house is always borrowed by the other families at the time of the weddings

  • The Kamees Shalwar is called "The Pathan dress".
  • The traditional embroidered shoes are also called Pathani shoes by the local population and they are worn on special occasions.
  • Pathan women observe Pardah strictly when they go out. They used to wear Burqas, but now they are using Shawls and big sheets of material to cover themselves.
  • The Pathan married women will always spend the weekend (Sundays) with her parents along with her husband and children. Her parents make sure that she is well entertained and there are plenty of meat especially Kabab and Tandoori Naan are cooked for her. This tradition continues until her death. In the absence of her parents, the brothers and their wives will keep this tradition.

Up until 1903, the Pathans of Maler Kotla did speak Pashto amongst themselves. However it gradually died down and now Punjabi is the common language with Urdu spoken by the Muslims. There are 29 shrines of all sizes in Maler Kotla and most of the saints buried there came from Afghanistan. The Pathans respect and believe in the power of these saints.

Uttar Pradesh

It is the biggest state of India which had the largest number of Pathans living in many big cities.

Rohilla State (Rohail Khand)

This is the area in U.P (Utter Pardesh) Province, in which Pashtoons were either given land by the emperors or they settled for Trade purposes. Roh was the name of the area around Peshawar city, in Pakistan. Yousafzai Pathans especially Mandarr sub clan, living in this valley were also known as Rohillas when they settled down the area was known as Katehr, which literally means soft well aerated loam which is extremely suitable for cultivation. It later became known as Rohil Khand ( the land of the Rohillas ) The great majority of Rohillas migrated between 17th and 18th Century.

Hafiz Rahmat Khan (the famous Rohilla leader) who was also involved in the horse trade, moved to Rohil Khand around 1730. He used to Purchase horses from the north of present day Afghanistan disposed them off in Delhi while going to his new home in Aonla It is important to note that Rohaikhand as a whole became the crossroads of trade routes from the North, North West as well as the East. The axis of the Mughal empire, the Grand Trunk Road ( first built by Sher Shah Suri ) which had linked Bengal with the Mughal Capitals of Agra and Delhi & via Sirhind and Lahore ( in Punjab ) eventually reached Kabul was completely Redirected. During 18th Century the Eastern track shifted northwards entering Rohilkhand via Central Awadh and Farrukhabad. From there traffic could bypass Delhi altogether and continue either south to Jaipur and other Rajput cities or through Baraily, along the hills via Najibabad. The rout circumvented the Punjab & Delhi and Caravans could reach Peshawar and Kabul without touching Sikh territory.

Although the Pathans are poor in this area they are still living off their wits and courage, sometimes taking law into their own hands. Taking revenge is still common and on a few occasions, there were murders which even the police could not handle.

Rae Bareli, in Western U.P it is at the moment under the influence of the Pathan Peer Ali Raza Khan. He has a School of thought and has thousands of followers all over the world. As he is the vote bank for any contestant of the election, all the communities respect him. His family has their own monastery in Bareli and do not see women there.

Farrukhabad has a mixed population of Pathans dominated by the Bangash and Yousafzais. In Qaim Ganj there are many Pathan landlords who do not do much and give their land to be cultivated by other communities. They keep guns and shoot at the time of the weddings or at childbirth.

Uttar Pradesh Traditions

  • Orbal. The tiny plaits of hair at the time of the weddings for the bride. It is dying now in the educated families.
  • Boiled meat eaten with Nan bread. It is called Tar Tanoori.
  • Rampur knife industry was the pride of the town. Some knives are still being made and the young men carry them to show off. These days the same professional ironmongers are making good copies of the guns at a small level. These guns are used for hunting which is a pastime of the Pathans. Shannu Khan ordered a dozen knives for me to choose from and I took only the smallest one with a bone handle.
  • The Jirgah system is intact and for small disputes people do call a jirgah.
  • Snuff is used and special, elaborate boxes were in fashion but not now.
  • The youngsters kiss the hands of their elders.
  • They do not smoke or chew Paan (beetle leave) in front of their parents.
  • Until 1940s the white Burqa (shuttle cock like shroud which women of Afghanistan wear when they go out) was abandoned by many women of Uttar Pradesh 20 years ago but it is in fashion now in an Arab style, due to the Identity crises.
  • The first Thursday of the Lunar month is considered Auspicious and sweet dishes are prepared to send to the local shrine for the poor to eat.
  • A married woman should spend the first day of the new moon in her Parents house and she has to sight the moon there.
  • A pregnant woman should drink milk in the light of the full moon if she wants her baby to be fair skinned. On the sixth day after the Childbirth, the woman is taken out at night in the courtyard and she looks at the stars. If it is a cloudy night she must do it the next day.
  • At weddings, most of the traditions are common with the other U.P Muslims but Mahpara told me that when bride and the groom are brought together for the Ceremonies of the Mirror and Quran ( Arsy Mashaf ) an elderly lady of the brides family must pull her plaited hair before the groom looks at her face in the mirror for the first time.
  • Shalwar Qamees and Turban is a must for the men on special occasions.
  • If you don't eat enough meat, it is considered a lack of proper diet. Handay Ka Gosht (meat cooked in a clay pot) Tikka (small pieces of meat which is barbecued).
  • Some of the Pashto words are still use e.g. Patka (turban) Peshawari Chappal (Sandles from Peshawar) Loopatta. (Long scarf) Saaloo ( shawl )
  • Pardah is strictly observed by women in the countryside

Poetry Charbait (Quartet) competitions

Pathans love poetry, especially the epoch. For the Pathans there is a special fascination in the night. They are thrilled by the moon and the darkness and go hunting or sit around the fire and recite poetry or sing and dance. Even now all the big events in the state happen at night.

As the language is no more spoken, the Charbaits are composed in Urdu. The content of the poetry is usually a famous war in history of the area.

There are Charbait competitions at night and they are called "Akhadas" All the poets who compose Charbait take part in these events and at the time of the Nawabs used to get valuable prizes when they won. These competitions are famous in UP. At these events the Rabab is also played which the musical instrument of the Pathans.

Libraries and literary works

Rampur Raza Library also known as the Taj Mahal of books. It was started as a personal collection of the Nawab Faizullah Khan in 1774. The succeeding Nawabs added to the collection and then Nawab Hamed transferred it into his own Palace, Hamed Manzil. It has over 50,000 manuscripts and about 100,000 books. It is considered the largest library in India for Manuscripts.

Khuda Bakhsh Library in Patna

This library has also started as a personal collection of Maulavi Khuda Bakhsh ( not a Pathan ) The person who enriched it and gave it a proper building was Dr. Zakir Hossain ( ex-President of India who was the governor of Bihar in 1961 ) Zakir Hossain bought manuscripts from private collection all over Bihar and donated them to the library.

CONCLUSION

The most important area of Pashtoons was "Rohil Khand" in U.P State. I was also told that there is Bara Basti (12 settlements) that means the number 12 for the 12th tribe of the Jews which left Israel and wandered away. Many Pashtoons in India believe that they are the 12th tribe of Israel. The actual number of settlements in Bara Basti is 17 and when I searched in the history books, the original settlements were 9. There was also the question of authenticity, as I was warned that there are fake Pathans. But it was interesting to find out the reasons for people to call themselves Pathans. Aysha Sumbul (Sociologist in Jawaharlal Nehru University ) told me that there are three reasons for that.

  • The word Khan symbolises a status and a glorified past.
  • The Pathans had a good reputation in the Indian community and they are still influential. The Muslims feel insecure especially after the communal violence of the recent past.
  • People, who migrate from their birthplace for economic reasons, want a new and impressive identity in a new environment.

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Study of the Pathan Communities in Four States of India, Safia Haleem
Published in Khyber.ORG on Tuesday, July 24 2007 (http://www.khyber.org)